It might come as a surprise to learn that only six of the 15 NATO commanders at the head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan have been American. Since 2002, there have been two Englishmen, two Turks, two Germans, a Canadian, a Frenchman, and an Italian. The Americans didn’t take over until 2007, despite the declared interests of America in the Afghan government and infrastructure following the attacks of September 11, 2001. In addition, the ISAF mandate did not extend beyond Kabul until 2003: the security of the country was still in the hands of the Afghan armed forces at that time, despite the U.S. invasion in October 2001, and the subsequent fall of the Taliban and the unrest that followed.
The ISAF is a group of international coalition forces, led by NATO, and created by the UN Security Council in December 2001.
The ISAF’s mandate in Afghanistan is a conglomeration of UN Security Council resolutions that have worked to extend the ISAF’s involvement in the country and “reaffirm” its goals of counter-terrorism and turning governance and security of the country back to the Afghans. The last Security Council Resolution, number 1917 passed in March 2010, extended the ISAF mandate until March 23, 2011.
On Tuesday, prior to U.S. President Barack Obama’s fifth State of the Union address, the White House announced that the U.S. will withdraw 34,000 troops by February 2014. There are currently about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and full coalition withdrawal is expected by the end of 2014. This means that the new guy heading up the operation, General Joseph F. Dunford, will likely be the last commander to oversee NATO in Afghanistan.
At his change-of-command ceremony on Sunday, Dunford tried to emphasize that the numerous changes in command did not mean the “goals of the coalition” had changed.
But the emphasis on the “likely.” U.S. and NATO have repeatedly said that 2014 is the target date when all NATO troops will be withdrawn from the country, but in late 2012 U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters that the U.S. was “reviewing” plans to keep troops there past that date. According to Bloomberg, U.S. military officials have stated the need to keep upwards of 15,000 troops in Afghanistan past 2014. There currently is no official end-date for the war in Afghanistan. This means -- assuming that Dunford eschews PR disasters like the Rolling Stone profile that cost General Stanley McChrystal his job, or appearing “too languid and old school” à la General David McKiernan -- Dunford may be calling Kabul home for a while after 2014.